This week, Sean, Melinda, and Anna look at recent releases from Viz Media, Yen Press, Kodansha Comics, and Vertical, Inc.
BTOOOM!, Vol. 2 | By Junya Inoue | Yen Press – No, sorry. You don’t get to have vivid shots of “cool violence”, showing lingering closeups of blown-up corpses and a young deviant raping dead women, culminating in a teaser for the new volume whose entire point is “will this hot girl get naked and raped? Tune in to find out!” … you don’t get to do that and then have the hero go on about how violence is wrong and that it’s self-evident that Kira is a psycho. The manga itself is not practicing what it preaches, and there’s basically no reason not to identify with Kira rather than Ryouta if you’re a typical fan of hentai doujinshi where things like this happen. This *isn’t* hentai doujinshi, but it’s aiming for a similar market – guys who like sexy danger, sexy corpses, and sexy assault – and it’s pretty much lost me. Sorry, BTOOOM!. I’m sure your backstory is interesting, but bye. – Sean Gaffney
Limit, Vol. 5 | By Keiko Suenobu | Vertical, Inc. – I admit I’m starting to hit my limit with Limit, and I’m a bit relieved that it’s wrapping up with Vol. 6. My main problem is that I don’t like Hinata that much – yes, he’s not supposed to be likeable here, but I don’t even sympathize with him in a “what a broken guy” way. I was bored to tears during his long monologue. Luckily, Konno is a far more interesting protagonist, and when she’s in control of the narrative things get quite good indeed – particularly the attempt on her life, which was probably the best scene in the book. I’m not entirely sure how this is going to end – it cold go either way, despite the occasional page or two we get devoted to the grieving families – but I’m hoping the final volume has put murder and long, tortured monologues behind it and gets back to a fight to survive. -Sean Gaffney
New Moon, Vol. 1 | By Stephenie Meyer and Young Kim | Yen Press – Now several volumes in to Yen Press’ adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s incredibly popular Twilight saga, I’m more convinced than ever that graphic novels are the ideal format for her storytelling. Though Bella’s obsession with her controlling undead boyfriend is no less disturbing than it ever was (and New Moon, in particular, suffers from one of the most trying cases of Guy #2 in YA fiction history), without Meyer’s cringe-worthy prose dragging them down, these books are vastly more palatable than I ever dreamed they could be. Young Kim’s TV-pretty artwork continues to suit the story’s tone, and though some of the italic text in this volume is questionably readable, it’s possible we’re better off missing some of Bella’s internal narrative. If you’re looking for great girls’ comics, there are far better series available. But if you’re determined to read Twilight, this is absolutely the way to go. – Melinda Beasi
One Piece, Vol. 67 | By Eiichiro Oda | Viz Media – When I recently talked about the first arc of the “New World” segment of One Piece for Off the Shelf, I described it as fun, but not the series as its best. The problem was that the characters weren’t invested with what they were doing. Happily, that changes with volume 67, which manages to not only be genuinely funny and absurd in several places—not the least of which is the fact that four members of the crew wind up swapping bodies—but also involves injustices that fire our heroes up (particularly Chopper). This is the best volume in a while, and on top of that, there’s some juicy political intrigue at the end when a fellow pirate proposes an alliance with Luffy in his plan to depose one of the Four Emperors. I have no idea if Luffy will go for it, but that could really take the story in an exciting direction! – Michelle Smith
Oresama Teacher, Vol. 14 |By Izumi Tsubaki | Viz Media – This is my favorite stress-relief manga. The ridiculous comedic set pieces in Oresama Teacher entertain me so much that I don’t even mind the lack of forward -moving plot. In this volume Mafuyu manages to restore Kanon’s faith in the male species by saving her while dressed up as Natsuo, a scrappy boy student. Takaomi gives Mafuyu a lift back home for a school break, resulting in a ridiculous scavenger hunt on her old stomping grounds as a juvenile delinquent. We get a brief and hilarious glimpse into Mafuyu and Takaomi’s past, as we see her hanging out with him when she was a young girl and he was the revolutionary gang leader who united rival high schools. Overall, this was a fun volume to read, and Takaomi has been absent from recent volumes, so it was nice to see him more present in the story again. – Anna N
Skip Beat!, Vol. 31 | By Yoshiki Nakamura | Viz Media – I wonder if this arc is coming out due to Nakamura missing all the awesome blood and violence she used to draw with Tokyo Crazy Paradise? In any case, they’re still filming as Cain Heel and his sister Setsu, and Ren is still having tremendous difficulty dealing with it. The timing of the chapters here is quite interesting, really – several scenes are flashbacks later on, which allows us to get the maximum drama when Setsu walks in on a murder attempt. (Again, I note I have genuine issues with how the cast handles method acting, but pretty much have to let that go.) I’m also pleased we’re still seeing Sho here – he’s an immature brat, but as a character I love how he interacts with Kyoko. Far more than Kijima, who I merely find a smarmy bastard. Ah well, Skip Beat! 31 is fantastic as always. – Sean Gaffney
Soul Eater, Vol. 14 | By Atsushi Ohkubo | Yen Press – Another chapter of fighting, but things are starting to get a bit desperate – indeed, our heroes suffer a major loss (not a death, I don’t think, and I have no doubt this will be the next major “arc” of the series. The cover is quite stark and memorable, and reminds me that it’s the weird art that drew me into this series in the first place – indeed, the scenes with Soul and Maka as puppets is some of the creepiest stuff I’ve seen in Soul Eater, and this is from a series that had a snake crawling down a little girl’s throat. But they’ve finally hit Arachnae’s base, and Black*Star seems to have emerged victorious, so I suspect we may be nearing an ending of sorts. Excellent shonen with lots of fights, great characters, and weird stuff going on all the time. No surprise this is running in the same magazine that Fullmetal Alchemist did. -Sean Gaffney
Thermae Romae, Vol. 2 | By Mari Yamazaki | Yen Press – Thermae Romae‘s debut volume was enjoyable, no doubt, but even as I reveled in Mari Yamazaki’s playful humor and detailed artwork, I’ll admit to having harbored grave doubts regarding its sustainability as a series. Gag manga in general tends to wear quickly with me, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much mileage a single gimmick could possibly provide, however beautifully drawn. I must now apologize for my lack of faith. With much study and obvious passion, Yamazaki-sensei has created much more than a gimmick with her time-traveling Roman bath engineer, and his story remains both genuinely funny and oddly moving—especially during this volume’s last few chapters in which Lucius has found himself trapped in modern Japan with no apparent means of return. And is romance on the horizon as well? Thermae Romae succeeds as both comedy and long-form storytelling—a rare combination indeed! Highly recommended. – Melinda Beasi
This week, Sean, Melinda, and Michelle look at recent releases from Seven Seas, Yen Press, Viz Media, Kodansha Comics, and Vertical, Inc.
Alice in the Country of Joker: Circus and Liar’s Game, Vol. 2 | By QuinRose and Mamenosuke Fujimaru | Seven Seas – Despite the cover showing a seductive moment between Alice and Peter White, there’s less romance in this series than ever before – and the series is all the better for it, as it’s allowed to dig a bit deeper into the darkness that haunts the entire Alice series. The cast make it perfectlyu clear that their goal is simply to keep Alice distracted and not thinking of returning to her world – and that having her fall for one of them is merely a means to that end. But Joker is a wildcard – at least one of his personalities is – and he’s just as determined to dredge up all the things everyone wants Alice to forget – particularly her older sister. This is possibly one of the more twisted spinoffs of the Alice series, and thus one of the most intriguing. – Sean Gaffney
Are You Alice?, Vol. 1 | By Ikumi Katagiri and Ai Ninomiya | Yen Press – Given the number of titles that currently match this description, one simply has to ask, do we really need another manga series involving characters from Alice in Wonderland? If that series is Are You Alice?, the answer is… I really don’t know. The premise is this: bishonen “Alice” falls into the clutches of several more bishonen playing roles like the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat. In order to win his freedom, Alice must kill the White Rabbit, as per rules set in place by the (bishonen) Queen of Hearts. Violence and BL subtext ensues. Though there are some intriguing aspects to this series’ first volume (for instance, former “Alice” candidates have lost their identities once they’d failed), it’s difficult not to see it as an excuse to dress up a bunch of pretty men in pretty, pretty costumes. Whether there’s really more to it remains to be seen. – Melinda Beasi
Arisa, Vol. 10 | By Natsumi Ando | Kodansha Comics – With the King’s identity revealed at the end of volume nine—and coming as no great surprise—we turn now to some explanation of how things came to be as they are. Arisa has awoken, and after a period of coldness that her twin, Tsubasa, thaws with her shoujo heroine powers, begins telling her sister the truth about the origins of the wish-granting sovereign of Class 2-B. I can’t say that the explanation is particularly plausible or anything, but at least it offers us a break from characters suffering from amnesia, falling down stairs, or finding themselves in other positions of peril thanks to over-the-top evil villains. For a series that started off promisingly, Arisa became kind of snickerworthy in its later volumes. I’m still going to see this one through to the end, but I doubt this’ll be something I’m interested in rereading in the future. – Michelle Smith
Cage of Eden, Vol. 10 | By Yoshinobu Yamada | Kodansha Comics – While not spoiling anything specific for this volume, it’s worth noting that after so many volumes where the only characters who die are minor students we don’t really care about, here we see both the death of a major character as well as the non-death of a villainous character I was totally expecting to die. In a series like Cage of Eden, keeping the suspense and surprises coming is the entire reason for reading the series, so that’s definitely a good thing. Well, I admit many may also be reading this for the fanservice, and this volume gives them a long, involved bathing scene with lots of nude women. The cliffhanger teases a couple of answers to our questions, but in general we’re still just watching everyone battle huge animals. But really, this volume is about (spoiler)’s death, and they died well. – Sean Gaffney
Demon Love Spell, Vol. 3 | By Mayu Shinjo | Viz Media – So I’ll admit that, despite my immediate adoration of Demon Love Spell, previous experiences have kept me on edge, and some part of me has waited fearfully for that thing to happen—you know the thing—that moment when I’d be suddenly expected to find a super-controlling love interest super-duper sexy. I mention this now, because it almost happened. There’s a moment early on, when hot demon Kagura, jealous as all hell, demands that heroine Miko “Shut up!” and “Stop arguing,” and in her mind, she apologizes. My heart sank, truly. I thought I was done for. Fortunately, the moment passed quickly and never repeated itself; furthermore, the rest of the volume is just as charming and funny as the rest of the series has been so far, and I found myself taking phone photos of particularly charming moments. Don’t scare me like that, Demon Love Spell. Please? – Melinda Beasi
GTO: 14 Days in Shonan, Vol. 9 | By Toru Fujisawa | Vertical, Inc. – I admit, there were two things that disappointed me in this final volume. One of the bad guys changed his stripes in a very convenient way, and I’m not sure there was enough buildup to make it work. The other is the 2nd half – the GTO story proper finished halfway through, and the rest is devoted to the Twins from an earlier arc dispensing Onizuka-style justice in their own high school. It’s just not as much fun watching them as it is watching Onizuka, and feels more like a typical Shonen Magazine fanservice chapter. But that still leaves lots of Onizuka being awesome, and a big chase, and a jetpack out of nowhere, and all the other fun ludicrousness we’ve known from this series. And, in the end, most of the kids get a happy ending. Which is all we really wanted. (Romantic resolution? Ha!) – Sean Gaffney
Welcome to the Erotic Bookstore, Vol. 2 | By Pon Watanabe | Yen Press – This was an intriguing experiment from Yen, and I’m glad they put it out. That said, I feel it’s safe to say that one volume of this series was absolutely enough. The second volume has less about the lives of the heroine and the various employees around her, and more examination of customers and their kinks. Including some fetishes that I’d really rather not get to know the reason behind, thanks very much. The message here is positive – as long as it’s not hurting anyone, sex is a wonderful and varied thing. But after a while the plotless gag format took its toll on me, and I was sort of flipping quickly towards the ending. If you’re a completist, then by all means pick this up. But for those who were simply curious, I’m pretty sure Vol. 1 will meet all your needs.. – Sean Gaffney
This week, Melinda, Michelle, and Sean look at recent releases from Yen Press, Vertical, Inc., and Viz Media.
Blood Lad, Vol. 3 | By Yuuki Kodama | Yen Press -I’ve liked Blood Lad from the start, but what’s most impressive about it is that it’s constantly surprising me with the ways in which it increases my affection. Though its fun, well-developed characters and humorous meta have been the series’ biggest draws so far, it goes further with both in this latest omnibus by making the meta about its character development. As Fuyumi’s true connections to the demon world are revealed, Staz agrees to a “curse” that forces him to respect her will by only allowing him to do anything with her for which she explicitly grants her permission. So now, after mulling over the difference between being the hero and the anti-hero, Staz must actively work to ensure that the objectified female love interest is granted full agency by the story itself, or (as far as he knows) risk his own death. I *heart* you, Blood Lad. – Melinda Beasi
BTOOOM!, Vol. 2 | By Junya Inoue | Yen Press – I’m rather torn on how I feel about BTOOOM!. On the one hand, it’s a quick, action-packed read about people on a deserted island being forced to participate in a deadly real-life version of a blow-’em-up video game, and the implication that the protagonist’s mother sent him into this environment on purpose is at least moderately intriguing. On the other, it’s completely lacking in any sort of depth, has mediocre art, and seems to revel in its gross and/or explicit content. A new player, a homicidal fourteen-year-old, is introduced in this volume, and of course we have to see him in the act of committing his particularly disturbing crime in the past. And the preview for volume three is entirely about whether a female player is going to be sexually assaulted, complete with extreme crotch closeup. While I don’t hate this series, this volume left me feeling unclean. I think I may be done. – Michelle Smith
Limit, Vol. 5 | By Keiko Suenobu | Vertical, Inc. – This volume begins as harrowingly as the last ended, but its trajectory after that I found truly surprising. As the original group is finally confronted with the truth of Usui’s death, they’re left with a problem that may truly be too much for them to handle. Amidst all the horror and chaos, one thing that has remained neatly black-and-white for the group up to this volume has been the subject of murder; guilty or not guilty? These were the only choices. So what to do now that things have become suddenly muddy, even on this point? What began as a tense survival tale has grown increasingly more complicated over the course of the series, finally forcing its characters into a position where they’ll have to make judgements they clearly aren’t prepared for. And I’m truly on the edge of my seat. Highly recommended. – Melinda Beasi
Psyren, Vol. 10 | By Toshiaki Iwashiro | Viz Media – I like how Psyren keeps its characterization grounded in the plot. After last volume, I was expecting “Research Subject 7” to be a sort of smiling mommy mentor type. Imagine my delight that she has nasty mood swings, is completely broken after all the trauma she faced, and removes herself from the battlefield as the best way to help our heroes. As for our heroes, they’re back in the present now (with some nice acknowledgement that if they win, the “future” Elmore Wood gang are stuck), and it’s back to trying to work out how to stop all this. Which may be even more difficult given that Sakurako seems to be losing her memories… and sense of self. At times Psyren feels like a sprawling mess, but when it’s on, it’s as exciting as any Jump series. I look forward to seeing how they march toward the ending.– Sean Gaffney
Strobe Edge, Vol. 4 | By Io Sakisaka | Viz Media – My favorite part of this volume was the attention paid to “beta couple” Daiki and Sayuri. I was afraid that after the first volume they’d be making only token appearances, but given that this is a manga about how difficult high school love affairs can be, it’s great to see everyone having to deal with it. Long-distance relationships can be especially rough, as they both learn. As for the rest of the cast, they all compete to see who can be the best at suffering stoically. Ren wins, of course, because he’s trying to be everything for everybody. I am rather impressed that Ninako has managed to keep her shiny happiness through these four volumes without really inching into depression for too long. I hope the same can be said for Mayuka, who the cliffhanger seems to indicate will be headed for a breakup soon.– Sean Gaffney
It’s all Viz, all the time this week, as Anna, Melinda, and Sean look at recent releases from Viz’s various imprints, including Shonen Jump, Shojo Beat, and SuBLime Manga.
07-Ghost, Vol. 4 | By Yuki Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara | Viz Media – A ton of stuff happens in this volume. Confrontations with the Barsburg Empire! Teito loses the source of his mystical power and gets back his memories! There’s a crazy final exam as everybody tries to become a Bishop! Teito cements his bonds with new friend Hakuren and the mysterious priest Frau as he begins to progress on his journey to fully understand his power and what it means to be a long-lost prince of the Raggs kingdom. Truthfully, I wasn’t following all the action all that closely because I was so distracted by all the billowing robes and mystical bolts of energy. After the first four volumes of the series, it seems like Teito is set up for the next phase of his adventure, and I’m curious to find out what will happen next. – Anna N
Bakuman, Vol. 19 | By Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata | Viz Media – As this series finally reaches its penultimate volume, I’m stunned to reveal that it’s finally hooked me on its ridiculous primary romance and I’ve officially been reduced to a blubbering pile of goo. Now that something is truly threatening Mashiro and Azuki’s happiness, it seems that I’m suddenly, hugely invested in seeing their dreams come true. As a jaded reader, this kind of pisses me off, but I can’t deny that it’s also significantly enhanced my enjoyment of the series’ building climax. It helps, of course, that the romantic subplot has become overtly entwined with the characters’ professional success, which I’ve been invested in from the start. Who knew that such an over-the-top romantic setup could provide this kind of emotional payoff? Well done, Ohba and Obata. Still recommended. – Melinda Beasi
Blue Morning, Vol. 1 | by Shoko Hidaka | SuBLime Manga – Sean described this series’ premise as “Black Butler with the fantasy removed and the BL actually consummated,” which isn’t entirely wrong, in that it’s a BL story involving a butler with no supernatural elements. Fortunately, that’s where the comparison ends. This story about a young viscount left in the care of his late father’s mysteriously devoted butler is an angst-heavy, emotionally dense study of 19th century classism, with a dark, romantic undercurrent that’s more Les Liaisons dangereuses than Black Butler. Teen viscount Akihito’s unrequited feelings for his butler/mentor Katsuragi make way for the series’ obligatory sex scenes, but it’s their ongoing power struggle over Akihito’s political future that really pushes the story forward. A new multi-volume BL drama is always worth a look, and Blue Morning makes a strong showing from the start. Recommended. – Melinda Beasi
Dengeki Daisy, Vol. 12 | By Kyousuke Motomi | Viz Media – One of the many things that impresses me about Dengeki Daisy is that it hasn’t abandoned its comedy roots even as the plot gets more serious. The first chapter in particular has a marvelous Titanic parody that’s only topped by Teru’s performance as a ‘scorned woman’. That said, the plot is getting darker and more serious. We knew that the guy who kidnapped Rena last time was a small-time villain, but he does lead us to a man who may be the ‘final boss’… one who not only manages to give Kurosaki a major freak out, but almost drives a wedge between our heroes with just a few well-placed words. All that plus we get romance (in a shoujo manga? Gasp!), as Teru and Kurosaki edge ever closer together without actually getting there. One of the most addicting manga currently on the market. – Sean Gaffney
Otomen, Vol. 15 | By Aya Kanno | Viz Media – This probably has the least Asuka of any of the volumes we’ve seen to date – indeed, Ryo appears more than he does! The first half of this volume wraps up Tonomine’s storyline, and once again emphasizes the core message of ‘be true to yourself even if it makes you ‘girly’ that every volume of this manga has had. (I note the moment those dresses came out, I thought “And Ryo will get a tux.” And I was right.) The second half has a summer festival, and features Yamato, who’s still self-conscious about his cute face and personality, which is not helped by spending most of the festival with Ryo, who is pure coolness in a female package. I’m not certain the cliffhanger ending of the volume will amount to anything, but that’s mainly as Otomen is still light froth. There’s tons of things wrong with it, but I still enjoy it immensely. – Sean Gaffney
Otomen, Vol. 15 | By Aya Kanno | Viz Media – I stopped buying this series regularly because I kept feeling frustrated that it never really explored the interesting aspect of people subverting gender roles in a more in-depth way. Still, it is fun to check in on Otomen now and then. Make-up artist Tonominie confronts his father’s political legacy and gets some resolution about finally being able to live for his own dream instead of fulfilling his family’s expectations. Ryo is one of my favorite characters in the series, so I was happy to see the last half of the book focused on her unique blend of oblivious coolness as she decimates every single (manly) challenge at a festival in an attempt to help Yamato with his own image issues. – Anna N
This week, Melinda, Sean, Michelle, and Anna look at recent releases from Yen Press, Viz Media, and Kodansha Comics.
Alice in the Country of Hearts: My Fanatic Rabbit, Vol. 2 | By QuinRose, Delico Psyche, and Owl Shinotsuki | Yen Press – As I suspected, this volume was a lot more focused on romance and not so much on the psychology and psychotics. That said, there are points of interest here. It’s odd that Elliot, who was once imprisoned for destroying the clock of his best friend, is cavalier about killing Alice’s sister. And it’s good to give him a reason to be angry at Alice being close to Julius that isn’t jealousy. That said, in the end it mostly does turn out to be jealousy, and when the book details romance it gets far more generic. There’s also some nasty dream manipulation to stop Alice from returning home – which one can argue, given what we’ve inferred about her real life, is justified, but still comes across as harsh. An ambiguously good volume, but hey, the series is short.-Sean Gaffney
A Devil and Her Love Song, Vol. 8 | By Miyoshi Tomori | Viz Media – At no point has A Devil and Her Love Song actually been bad, but the “Anna arc” of recent volumes—in which Maria attempts to achieve some level of understanding with her former best friend—just retread the same ground over and over and felt like it would never end. And so I am profoundly relieved that we’re moving on to something different, even if it’s taking the form of Shintaro Kurosu, a brash new first-year who’s interested in Maria and takes every opportunity to get close to her. We’ve seen this sort of character in shoujo manga many times before, but any catalyst that causes Shin to confront his feelings for Maria is fine by me, and because Shintaro shares some qualities with our insightful heroine, he’s quite adept at getting under others’ skin. I still recommend this series, but if we never see Anna again it’ll be too soon for me. – Michelle Smith
Fairy Tail, Vol. 25 | By Hiro Mashima | Kodansha Comics – Fairy Tail will probably never get away from One Piece comparisons, but one big difference it has is that Mashima does tease romance between his characters quite a bit. In this volume we not only get Elfman and Evergreen getting past Mirajane with a shocking revelation – theoretically false, but I sense a setup – but we also have Levy’s giant crush on Gajeel, which is quite cute provided you forget him crucifying her a while back. Literally. Meanwhile, the S-class exams are interrupted not only by the arrival of a dark guild, led by Ultear, but also a young sobbing man who would seem to be Zeref, the evil wizard who has been mentioned before, and definitely doesn’t seem to be possessing anyone this time. It would seem that the exam arc is going to get a lot longer and more serious before anyone wins their S-class.-Sean Gaffney
La Corda d’Oro, Vol. 17 | By Yuki Kure | Viz Media – This final volume reads like a series of closing doors—at least for Kahoko’s suitors, who take turns examining their feelings, though it’s clear most don’t have a shot. Ryotaro’s epiphany is most significant, and his heartfelt confession throws oblivious Kahoko for a loop. Everyone knows that Kahoko will end up with Len, but when it gets right down to it, their final scene is oddly anticlimactic. Kahoko is predictably breathless and embarrassed, and Len is awkward and brusque, but as a romantic climax it’s surprisingly non-committal. We don’t even get a good kiss out of it. As a jaded fan of romance, I should be grateful for anything unexpected, but in a story that’s always been so conventional, it’s honestly a letdown. Though perhaps the most disheartening truth is that they’re still hung up on “Ave Maria.” What can you do? Farewell, La Corda d’Oro, I’ll miss you. – Melinda Beasi
Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration, Vol. 1 | By Nobuhiro Watsuki | Viz Media – Watsuki says in the afterward that the genesis for this reworking of Rurouni Kenshin was the production of the recent live action movie. This shows in the first story of the volume which puts familiar characters into a battle arena situation with no real plot or character development. There’s a back-up prequel story that has more interest as Kenshin encounters a unique western doctor struggling to provide care for low-income patients. While it was nice to revisit the characters for a little bit, this parallel story reminded me of how much more I liked the original series. This is only for die-hard Kenshin fans, most people will be better served reading the very good first series. – Anna N.
Strobe Edge, Vol. 4 | By Io Sakisaka | Viz Media – What’s interesting about Strobe Edge, is the way that Io Sakisaka has managed to take the most trite characteristic of her series early on—namely, her heroine’s unbelievable innocence—and turned it into a real asset. That Ninako wouldn’t realize that there are unavoidably negative consequences to unrequited love seems ridiculously naive, but it also allows Sakisaka to explore those consequences more honestly than is typical, even for romance manga. The way both Ninako and Ren begin to recognize and forced to deal with the ramifications of their ongoing friendship in the face of Ninako’s (and now, Ren’s) feelings is surprisingly fresh. I’m reminded immediately of the personal agony I suffered while watching Shoji developing feelings for someone other than his girlfriend, Nana Komatsu (NANA), but this time I’m experiencing it with “other woman” Sachiko as my heroine. It’s an emotional punch in the gut, and very well-executed. Recommended. – Melinda Beasi
We Were There, Vol. 16 | By Yuuki Obata | Viz Media – This is the second concluding Shojo Beat series for me this week, but what a contrast! Though this series’ romantic conclusion was no less predictable than La Corda d’Oro‘s, the execution could not be more different—much like the two series themselves. There was a time when I’d given up on Nanami and Yano’s torturous romance as simply too destructive to bear, so it’s a real testament to Obata-sensei’s gifts as a writer that she’s managed to bring me back around to loving them together once more. Everyone’s story ends with dignity, even that of long-suffering Takeuchi (my personal hero of the story) but the real centerpiece is our primary couple, with whom Obata completely sweeps me off my feet. Their ending is so poignant and so well-earned, it’s a genuine pleasure to read. Thanks for everything, We Were There. You’ve been quite a ride. Highly recommended. – Melinda Beasi
This week, Melinda, Michelle, and Sean look at recent releases from Yen Press, Viz Media, Dark Horse Comics, Kodansha Comics, and Vertical, Inc.
Bunny Drop, Vol. 8 | By Yumi Unita | Yen Press – This volume has been greatly anticipated and feared by fans—me included. And though I had faith that Unita-sensei would execute the much-feared plot twist—Rin’s developing romantic feelings for her guardian, Daikichi—in a thoughtful and inoffensive way, my reaction was mixed at best. While I’m happy to report that this volume is, indeed, inoffensive, it’s also hard to swallow—not because of any breach of propriety, but because it just doesn’t quite ring true. Rin’s inner monologue about her awakening feelings is written sensitively, and on the surface it makes some sense. For a girl who craves consistency above all else, Daikichi’s steadfast loyalty can’t be beat. But even as I read Rin’s careful dissection of her own feelings, I’m just not buying it. The words are there, but the attraction is… not. That said, I’m invested enough to stick around for more. Recommendation pending. – Melinda Beasi
Bunny Drop, Vol. 8 | By Yumi Unita | Yen Press – (Look away to avoid spoilers!) My primary reaction upon completing this volume can best be summed up as a sort of grudging respect. Melinda always had faith that Unita could get readers to accept the romantic pairing of Rin and her much-older guardian, Daikichi, but I had remained dubious. Still, it’s hard to maintain such a feeling when Rin is so absolutely clear about her feelings and what she wants to do with her life. It’s worth noting, too, that so far Rin is convinced that getting what she wants is impossible, and that trying to achieve it would destroy what they have now. Is this Unita’s clever ploy to actually get me to root for them as a couple? And could it actually be working?! In any case, I’m not as leery of the final volume as I once was. – Michelle Smith
Knights of Sidonia, Vol. 2 | By Tsutomu Nihei | Vertical, Inc. – This is absolutely riveting stuff, with your hands turning the pages as fast as your eyes can process. The battles are tense and visually clear, and you feel for the hero even though he, like most of the cast, tends to be fairly unemotional. Actually, that’s probably for the best – if everyone in this cast started crying when bad things happened, there would literally be nothing but 100 pages of sobs Bad things happen constantly in this story, and even when you get a happy, redeeming moment, it’s merely setup for an even more crushing blow later. And we’re still wondering what’s so special about Tanikaze that everyone is going out of their way to accommodate him. Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be a really depressing backstory. That will once again make me want to turn the pages even faster. – Sean Gaffney
Loveless, Vol. 3: 2-in-1 | By Yun Kouga | Viz Media – Everyone should know by now that I’ve fallen in love with Loveless, so a positive review of Viz’s latest omnibus edition is surely no surprise. Despite that, I must continue to register my surprise over Kouga-sensei’s ability to portray complex emotions and moral ambiguity with a combination of thoughtfulness, humor, and razor-sharp honesty. Over and over again as I read this omnibus volume, I was struck by bits of complicated emotional truth that most writers would carefully avoid—especially in the sort of deceptively fluffy genre tale that Kouga weaves here. Kouga’s insight into the human heart seems boundless, resulting in a story that is occasionally shocking, often dark, and always brilliant. Oh, Soubi… poor Soubi. Look for further discussion of this volume as the week goes on. Highly recommended. – Melinda Beasi
Missions of Love, Vol. 3 | By Ema Toyama | Kodansha Comics – I know that I sometimes read shoujo manga for different reasons than everyone else. This is probably why I’m still enjoying the really, really problematic Missions of Love, which is apparently trying to spice up Nakayoshi in a way I’m not used to from this company (what is this, ShoComi or something?). Yukina is horrible much of the time, which is only somewhat excused by her complete ignorance of love and the emotions of other people. Akira does indeed step up his game, as predicted, and comes across as obsessed. And we also meet Shigure’s old friend (and past love, according to everyone but him) Mami, who I am sort of desperately hoping does not become the standard evil rival bitch character or many shoujo manga but I know she will be. In short, this is a fun little trainwreck, and if the lead female were weak or whiny, I’d drop it like a stone. But she’s a horrible person too. So I like it. Go figure. -Sean Gaffney
Oh My Goddess!, Vol. 44 | By Kosuke Fujishima | Dark Horse – The most interesting part of this volume actually won’t have its real impact until Vol. 45, which is the dissolution and then reconnection of their contract. Keiichi, who goes along with this because he trusts Belldandy, immediately notices one big difference – Belldandy looks much sexier to him, and indeed he’s reacting in ways we haven’t seen in years. But the meat of this particular volume is the sisterly bond between Urd and Skuld, and how strong it has to be given the control Urd has – or doesn’t have – over her demon side. Urd loves and trusts Skuld enough to kill her if she gets out of hand, and Skuld loves and trusts Urd enough to find a way out that doesn’t involve that. So now everyone’s coming together again, including Hild, whose arrival will make Vol. 45 even more fun than you’d expect. -Sean Gaffney
We Were There, Vol. 16 | By Yuuki Obata | Viz Media – Now that is one satisfying and well-earned ending. Yano begins reaching out to Takahashi, but because she’s so busy at work, they play phone tag for a while, and right after they reach each other, she ends up in the hospital. In the hands of a lesser mangaka, such a plotline would be rife with melodrama, but here it’s urgent and scary and the catalyst for putting things in crystal-clear perspective. Truly, this is a splendid ending that goes beyond what one would expect, taking the time to acknowledge how important Takeuchi has been to both Yano and Takahashi and bringing the series full circle with a return to the peaceful countryside of Hokkaido. Have I gushed sufficiently? It’s wonderful. If you like shoujo manga even a little, you need to read We Were There. I’m already looking forward to rereading it, that’s how good it is. – Michelle Smith
Today, Anna, Sean, and Melinda look at recent releases from Viz Media, Yen Press, and Vertical, Inc.
07-Ghost, Vol. 3 | By Yuki Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara | Viz Media Some of the worldbuilding in 07-Ghost is a bit incoherent, and I have to admit that I’m not exactly following all the permutations of demons that beset young orphan castoff prince Teito as he is studying to become a Bishop in the Barsburg Church. That being said, I enjoy the general atmosphere of this manga very much, and there’s usually a visually arresting moment in each volume that makes me want to read the next. In this case, Teito dives into the fountains at the church and discovers a secret underwater world connected to the cell where rebel Bishop Frau is being held. A bit of backstory was filled in in this volume too, so while I might not enjoy the demon of the week so much, I am still interested in this story. – Anna N.
GTO: 14 Days in Shonan, Vol. 8 | By Toru Fujisawa | Vertical, Inc. – The story was always going to get more serious before it wrapped up, and that’s what we see here. We’ve seen lots of emotional abuse in the past 7 volumes – neglect, abandonment – but the series does not shy away from physical or sexual abuse, and the bookends here are harrowing. Sakurako’s father returns with a crooked lawyer and doctor, and it’s only by outcrooking him that they manage to get Sakurako away. And Ikuko, who’s been mostly a minor presence here, finally gets a focus, as we see what she’s gone through at the hands of her mother. There is very much a sense of “Onizuka will help these kids, but who will help the ones in real life?” to this volume, with sexual abuse statistics included. If you’re looking for badassery, that’s here as well, but this volume works best when it’s ramping up the parental horror. – Sean Gaffney
Kimi ni Todoke, Vol. 16 | By Karuho Shiina | Viz Media – I’ve mentioned my general distrust of Kento before, and it’s good that both the author and Ayane realize this – as, later, does Kento himself. He and Ayane do have something in common, which is that they’re used to wearing a ‘playboy/girl’ facade to a degree, but have never really allowed anyone to really get inside their heart. It’s a very different kind of awkwardness when compared to Sawako and Kazehaya, who both suffer from terminal shyness and repression, or Chizuru and Ryu, who are having to redefine a very comfortable friendship into something different. This all leads up to the Christmas party, where romance is traditional. This volume also has some very cute art by other Margaret artists at the end, including Natsumi Aida of Switch Girl!, a title I’d love to see here. – Sean Gaffney
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Vol. 14 | By Hiroshi Shiibashi | Viz Media – In general, humor has been thin on the ground since we hit the never-ending Kyoto arc for Nura and company, so it’s terrific seeing Tsurara’s pointless jealousy as she realizes that ‘equip’ is something that can be done with anyone who’s close to Rikuo, and not just girls who are in love with him. Cue huff, and Rikuo’s bafflement. The rest of this is pure fighting, though, mixed with a bit of horror every time we cut back to Nue, or even get a flashback. There’s more death of innocents than in most Jump titles. Also, lots of familiar yokai designs – one of the antagonists here looks just like a yokai from Natsume’s Book of Friends. Still, things look like they’re gearing up to a final battle and climax. Of course, I’ve thought that before and been wrong. -Sean Gaffney
Pandora Hearts, Vol. 15 | By Jun Mochizuki | Yen Press – Oh, Pandora Hearts… dear Pandora Hearts, cruel Pandora Hearts. As expected, this volume is filled with fallout from the previous installment, some of which is scary, some oddly poignant, and some deeply tragic. Though Mochizuki’s storytelling continues to be occasionally abstruse, I find more and more that I’m completely willing to re-read as needed in order to truly catch on, volume-to-volume. As always, I’m struck by the emotional effectiveness of her artwork, which often provides clarity when the text does not. One wordless two-page spread in particular comes to mind (it’s part of the “deeply tragic” section). Though it would be impossible for new readers to even dream of jumping in at this late date, I’ll continue to recommend this for a good, epic read. This volume’s final page is permanently etched in my mind. – Melinda Beasi
Slam Dunk, Vol. 28 | by Takehiko Inoue | Viz Media There’s not much to be said about Slam Dunk other than a reference to its general awesomeness, but this volume featured some art that reminded me a lot of Vagabond in the surreal moments that were frozen in time as Shohoku’s game against Sannoh continues. Panels focusing only on Sakuragi’s limbs as he jumps bring home the physicality of the game, and there’s are some insane visuals as Akagi is broken out of his fugue state when his hulking father steps on the court and shaves a piece of daikon radish on him. Sakuragi is rallying the team as only an idiot can, and if Akagi is able to overcome his opponent, scrappy Shohoku might just win the game. – Anna N.
Toriko, Vol. 15 | By Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro | Viz Media – The gentleman on the cover with his face shredded is Zebra, the fourth and most dangerous of the Heavenly Kings. They’ve always been eccentrics to date, but Zebra acts genuinely unhinged at times. Other than that, and Zebra getting the same vague mancrush on Komatsu that everyone in Toriko gets, this is another manga where you watch it for the amazing worldbuilding, as it’s a cornucopia of strange creatures, awesomely terrifying landscapes, and incredibly dangerous food. This is a more serious volume, than usual, though there is some humor (particularly involving the warden of Honey Prison, who has magical pheromone powers. I’ll be interested to see how things continue, as for once Komatsu is on his own in a deep labyrinth, with little protection from his stronger friends. – Sean Gaffney
This week, Sean and Melinda look at recent releases from Viz Media, Yen Press, and Vertical, Inc.
Blue Exorcist, Vol. 9 | By Kazue Kato | Viz Media – We wrap up the Impure King arc here, with some really impressive fire power by Rin, and a cute epilogue. Most of this volume, as you’d expect from this series, revolves around Rin and Yukio – Rin learning to accept himself for what he is and use his satanic powers for good, and Yukio learning to trust his brother (though not enough to reveal his own inner demons). Meanwhile, Mephisto continues to do what he does best – look mysterious and not give anything away. Shura, at least, seems to know he has plans for Rin, though can’t do anything about them right now. And I must admit, even if Western fans complain about “nobody dies in Jump”, I was pleased to see a few characters I thought were goners survive through the arc. As ever, Blue Exorcist is a fun romp with lots of alluring backstory. – Sean Gaffney
Devil And Her Love Song, Vol. 8 | By Miyoshi Tomori | Viz Media – Now that Anna is gone, we need to introduce new conflict into the storyline, and much to my surprise it wasn’t that signing teacher. Instead, we get a new first year, Shintaro Kurosu, who is secretly head of a vampire… wait, wrong Shojo Beat series. What Shintaro is is a classic “playboy who finds himself falling in love for real” character, and also has a way of speaking his mind. He and Maria go quite well together, something that Shin immediately notices and is quite pissed off about. Things all come to a head on the beach (great swimsuit montage as well), where Shin confronts some family demons and Shintaro makes his move. I love love love this series. Also, why ids that evil teacher STILL THERE? Why couldn’t Maria’s class be taught by Onizuka? Or Pin? (It would have been much a much shorter manga, yes.) -Sean Gaffney
The Flowers of Evil, Vol. 5 | By Shuzo Oshimi | Vertical, Inc. – Time and again this series manages to be genuinely surprising—at least on the surface. As summer vacation approaches, Kasuga and Nakamura begin to hatch their plan for taking things to “The Other Side.” Meanwhile, Saeki goes to extremes to try to win back Kasuga’s attention; but what exactly is she jealous of? Though Saeki’s actions surprised me, the feelings behind them ring uncomfortably true. Once again, these characters seem to have reached an impasse, but what will that mean for them this time? With its new anime series currently running, it seems likely that this story is far from over, but Oshimi has a gift for writing characters into corners they must forcefully bust out of on nothing but their own steam. As always, I’m dying to know what comes next. Still recommended. – Melinda Beasi
Soul Eater, Vol. 13 | By Atsushi Ohkubo | Yen Press – There are three storylines that get attention as we continue our long march through the castle to stop Arachnae. First, and probably best, is Black*Star’s arrival and battle against Mifune. I say best as we get a terrific flashback showing Black*Star visiting Tsubaki’s family and seeing his resolve to get stronger is not for killing but to protect. I always love seeing the meisters and their weapons bond in Soul Eater, and this gives some additional depth. Second, we see Ox and Harvar battling Kim and Jacqueline, which is a typical “snap out of it, I still love you” shonen battle, but still sweet. And lastly, Kid and Free battle Mosquito, which gives us this volume’s cliffhanger and shows Mosquito is more than just a goofy old guy in a nice hat. Also, the “finest nose” line made me laugh out loud. Complex, but recommended. -Sean Gaffney
The Story of Saiunkoku, Vol. 9 | By Kaira Yura and Sai Yukino | Viz Media – The publishers decided that this would be a good place to end the manga, even if the light novels went on for a while longer. As a result, what we get here is a volume of ‘side stories’ that flesh out a few of the other characters. In theory, this allows us to see the depths of the familial bonds in this series, and how even if they fight, brothers still love each other. In practice, everyone in the entire cast is a giant dork throughout the volume. It’s fantastic—this is mostly gloriously silly, especially the Ryuren chapter (which is justifiably the longest), and I can’t even describe the hilarity that the ‘Shoka masks’ provoked in me. This series was a real surprise winner for me—girl strives to become a civil servant is so refreshing after a lot of “girl struggles to tell boy she likes him” series. Well done, Shurei! -Sean Gaffney
This week, Anna, Sean, & Michelle look at recent releases from Viz Media and Vertical, Inc.
07 Ghost, Vol. 2 | By Yuki Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara | Viz Media I continue to dig the Saiyuki-like vibe of this series about a young boy gifted with power who finds himself suddenly living in a church filled with mystical fighting bishops. This volume shows Teito dealing with the spiritual possession of his only friend Mikage. Teito decides to join a training class and become a bishop himself, but the power that he contains inside him might be too difficult to wrangle. There are plenty of random moments of humor sprinkled between slightly incoherent yet awfully pretty scenes of priests battling demons. I’m enjoying this series so far, as it has a distinct visual look and Teito is a sympathetic main character. – Anna N.
Barrage, Vol. 2 | By Kouhei Horikoshi | Viz Media – And here we get the other side of the story, and see that yes, while some promising titles are cut short by unforgiving Japanese fans and editors, sometimes series just don’t take off. Astro and Tiamat arrive in a new city, meet a girl who could have been the standard girl of Jump’s “two guys, one girl” lineup, learn her tragic past, and fight baddies. But then we also get Astro’s own tragic past, and a quick explanation of his true origin that screams “we shouldn’t have known this till Volume 11, at least”. It’s a vicious circle – the manga wasn’t quite good enough to continue, so has to wrap up fast with an unsatisfying “the story will continue” ending. That said, there are some nice touches here – I love the space whale – and the extra showing everyone was acting was pretty cute. Farewell, Barrage. In the end, you weren’t Jump enough. – Sean Gaffney
Jiu Jiu, Vol. 4 | By Touya Tobina | Viz Media – Some titles enthrall me, some titles bore me, and a few titles offend my sensibilities, but there are only a couple of manga series I can think of that have frustrated me as much as Jiu Jiu. This being shoujo manga, Takamichi has no idea what love is, and over the course of the volume concludes, a) Snow and Night love her, and b) she loves them. Which is fine, except she still doesn’t quite get what kind of love it is. The best part of the manga focuses on this, with Takamichi bluntly being asked “Do you want to have sex with them?” (A reminder: Snow and Night are dogs. Sort of.) Unfortunately, the rest of the manga has Jiu Jiu’s usual issues – an incoherent plot, inconsistent art, and difficult to like characters. It could be better than it is. Something I’ve said for 4 straight volumes now, so I’m starting to think maybe it can’t. – Sean Gaffney
Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, Vol. 16 | By Karuho Shiina | Viz Media – Ahh, Kimi ni Todoke is always a delight, even when it brings tidings of romantic turmoil for its protagonists. Chizu is in a daze over Ryu’s confession, Ayane is uncertain about Kento’s intentions (could she really let herself believe that he’s genuinely serious about her?), and Sawako is feeling exceptionally awkward and nervous about Kazehaya, who seems to be keeping something from her. This leads to the best scene in the volume—one of the best in the series so far, in fact—where Ayane and Sawako have a really good conversation and share some of their worries and insecurities. I think I am going to have to call it: Kimi ni Todoke is the best shoujo series for depicting female friendships. (Sorry, Fruits Basket. I still love you!) There’s also a fun tribute section in the back with submissions from some familiar artists; Aya Nakahara’s is my favorite. – Michelle Smith
Limit, Vol. 4 | By Keiko Suenobu | Vertical, Inc. – The world our heroines now inhabit continues to break down, with corpses causing accusations and screaming incoherence, and no one can trust anyone any more. Suenobu’s best trait as an author is keeping the tension ramped up the entire volume, and this is probably the best one yet at forcing you to keep turning the page to find out what happens next. The art is also a plus – at one point in this volume, Morishige looked straight out of Drifting Classroom, a title this work has echoes of. This is definitely a series that works best in short, 160-page volumes – as an omnibus, it would be entirely too crushing, and even in these short bursts I long to cleanse my palate with something that has humor and fluffiness. But if you like tense, over-the-top teen thrillers, it’s one of the most compelling. – Sean Gaffney
Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 9 | By Hiro Arikawa and Kiiro Yumi | Viz Media – The cliffhanger to the last volume is resolved quickly, in a chapter that’s the weakest of the book. Luckily, stronger stuff happens next. With a hero who can get as dense as Iku, it’s great to see her excel in something other than “kicking asses”, and her scenes with the children in the library are pure gold. Even better is the final chapter, which revolves around censorship of a certain word. At first I wondered if there was a translation issue, as the word censored seemed totally bland. Of course, that’s the point – unchecked censorship can go after any word, phrase or medium, and the sheer innocuousness of it is why the Library Forces – and real life organizations – exist. It also sets up another cliffhanger, of course – this series is very good at making you want the next volume now. – Sean Gaffney
This week, Sean, Anna, Melinda, & Michelle look at recent releases from Kodansha Comics, Viz Media, Yen Press, and Vertical, Inc.
Attack on Titan, Vol. 4 | By Hajime Isayama | Kodansha Comics – The art still has issues with facial differences, but this is finally the volume where we see developed characters beyond the big three. Annie and Jean both get to show off potential antagonist chops, but my favorite was Sasha, or “Potato Girl.” In a manga as deeply depressing and bleak as this series is, we need moments of levity—moments we didn’t get in the first three volumes. Sasha’s personality, love of food, and general liveliness are a breath of fresh air. Of course, that doesn’t mean this volume is all laughs. We cycle back and forth between training flashbacks and the present day so quickly that I lose track of which is which (black borders would help, Isayama—don’t you read manga?), and the present day is bad for everyone, with more corpses, more distrust of Eren, and a bleak future promised. Also, Blouse? Not Braus? This reminds me of Fairy Tail romanization… -Sean Gaffney
Demon Love Spell, Vol. 2 | By Mayu Shinjo | Viz Media I read the first volume and liked this series much more than Ai Ore!, and that was confirmed by the second volume, which kicks off with an unexpectedly poignant story of a lost fox demon. Miko continues to be a reasonable foil for any demons she encounters due to her almost bull-headed obliviousness. A scene of her fending off a demonic spirit with an extra sandwich was hilarious. Kagura is very much the typical alpha male Shinjo hero, but his frequent transformations into a tiny handbag mascot keeps him from being too insufferable. This is going to be a go-to fun read for me whenever I need a bit of a laugh. – Anna N
Durarara!! Saika Arc, Vol. 1 | By Ryohgo Narita, Suzuhito Yasuda, and Akiyo Satorigi | Yen Press – As always with DRRR!!, there’s a lot going on here at the same time. Mikado fades into the background a bit, as we turn to Anri and her own self-esteem issues, which aren’t helped by a sexually harassing teacher. Shizuo is on the cover, and some of his backstory is covered here, showing why he is so incredibly strong—and why it’s a burden rather than a choice. And of course there’s also a series of assaults in the city, as everyone’s getting slashed by a mysterious demon sword—who’s also an internet troll. DRRR!! is the sort of series where explaining everything that’s going on makes it sound more complicated than it is. This is the life of a city, as filtered through about 20 different cast members. Like the author’s other series, Baccano!, there is no main character. Just lots of fun and chaos. – Sean Gaffney
Limit, Vol. 4 | By Keiko Suenobu | Vertical, Inc. – As swiftly as Limit‘s group of survivors came together in the series’ third volume, they fall apart even more quickly in the fourth, as it becomes clear that one among them has committed a brutal murder. Accusations are hurdled from all sides, and yet another member of their party will be lost before the group finally settles into a sort of grudging paranoia that is unlikely to abate anytime soon. Volumes of this series seem to fly by, that’s how engaging they are, and I emerged from this one with a combination of dread and feverish anticipation. Fortunately, these are being released on a reasonably brisk schedule, with volume five due out before the end of May. Given the series’ tense atmosphere and quick pacing, it’ll be a great candidate for marathon reading once all six volumes have been released. I look forward to that re-read for sure. Still recommended. – Melinda Beasi
The Story of Saiunkoku, Vol. 9 | By Kairi Yura and Sai Yukino | Viz Media – The main storyline of The Story of Saiunkoku wrapped up quite satisfactorily in volume eight, and I never would’ve thought that a subsequent volume of side stories would be necessary. And, indeed, it really isn’t. There are three stories in this final volume—“So Began the Fairy Tale,” which offers a glimpse at the early loss of innocence suffered by Shoka, Shurei’s father; “Hurrican Ryuren Strikes the Capital,” about the eccentric member of the Ran clan who achieved the second-highest rank on the civil servants’ exam; and “Someday I Will Come to You,” about Shoka’s odd brother Reishin and his continued obsession with Shurei. Actually, rather a lot is made of Reishin and his obsession for Shoka, too, and it’s a joke that’s warn a bit thin with me. Nevertheless, this is a pleasant volume, if not the most dramatic or substantial. I’ll miss this series. – Michelle Smith
This week, Sean, Anna, and Michelle look at recent releases from Kodansha Comics and Viz Media.
Dawn of the Arcana, Vol. 9 | By Rei Toma | Viz Media – Dawn of the Arcana is shaping up to be a decent fantasy adventure! Nakaba and friends are presently in Lithuanel, attempting to broker an alliance with Senan, but the foreign land is no stranger to ruthless political machinations, as Nakaba soon knows all too well, thanks to her power, the Arcana of Time. In fact, this volume makes it clear that the ability to see into the past and the future is far more of a curse than a blessing, as Nakaba learns just what it is that her attendant Loki has been hiding and soon faces a terrible choice. Meanwhile, her husband, Caesar, sails home to an uncertain fate. A little bit of sloppy plotting and art that’s a bit too simple keep this title from achieving true epic status, but it’s still quite entertaining. Highly recommended. – Michelle Smith
Genshiken: Second Season, Vol. 2 | By Shimoku Kio | Kodansha Comics – Most of the original cast of Genshiken has moved on by this volume – Sasahara barely appears, Saki is absent, etc. But Madarame has always been Genshiken’s heart, so it’s no surprise that he can’t drag himself away from the narrative for long. Which is good, as it’s becoming clear that he’s having a mini-harem form around him. Not that he’s aware of it or anything. It’s good as this is a goldmine of humor, and allows Genshiken’s funniest characters – particularly Sue, who gets her own omake devoted to how awesome she is – shine. But what the 2nd season really seems to be about is Hato and his gender identity, and that’s handled quite realistically and sensitively. In short, it may be a second season with a new cast, but Genshiken still does what it’s always done best – give otaku nerds depth and heart.– Sean Gaffney
Kimi Ni Todoke, Vol 16 | by Karuho Shiina | Viz Media This is one of those shoujo series that is just always excellent. We see Sawako and her friends move forward with more self-awareness and maturity into their developing relationships. Sawako senses some distance between her and Kazehaya and attempts to deal with the issue. Kento attempts to develop his relationship with Ayane. Some of the best moments in this manga are when characters are just sitting and talking to each other, as Kento and Kazehaya discuss their relationship woes. Shiina’s use of paneling and shifting perspective makes everything visually interesting even when most of the manga focuses on heartfelt discussions as opposed to action. – Anna N
Psyren, Vol. 9 | By Toshiaki Iwashiro | Viz Media – I’ve been more of a fan of the modern day parts of Psyren than the dystopian future, though the leveling up of the Elmore Wood kids helped a lot in Vol. 9. Still, in a manga where the future can change such as this one, it’s hard to invest in it. Which is why it’s good to see a subplot with someone like Amakusa, a slimeball who is determined that since the world is destroyed, he may as well rule it. There’s always going to be people like him around after a tragedy. Luckily, he’s merely small fry, getting taken out merely by Marie getting very mad… and crumpling the entire building into a ball around him. Still, there’s no getting around it – this is a “fighting volume” of a Jump series, meaning that the plot mostly takes a pause… with the exception of Nemesis Q’s creator, whose big appearance is the cliffhanger of this good but not great volume. – Sean Gaffney
Rin-Ne, Vol. 11 | By Rumiko Takahashi | Viz Media – One of the big reasons that I go on about Sakura having her negative emotions stolen when she was in the afterlife is that she’s so normally passive that it’s hard to get a grip on her and understand her, and thus she runs the risk of becoming dull. Dull Takahashi characters make me sad. That said, the start of Vol. 11 continues to make me think there’s something to it, as Sakura gets some candy that allows her to not see ghosts… including Rinne himself. And, in her own subtly, low-key way, she realizes that she’s bored out of her gourd without them. (On the bright side, she does miss the many, many attempts on her life.) Other than that, we get the usual: ship tease that doesn’t really go anywhere, unhappy spirits who can easily move on because the whole things a misunderstanding, and lots of violence. Rin-Ne is what it is. – Sean Gaffney
Strobe Edge, Vol. 3 | By Io Sakisaka | Viz Media – This third volume of Strobe Edge is primarily devoted to Ando, who is being groomed to take over the rival spot from Daiki now that he’s been quickly paired off. It’s always fun seeing the so-called player who’s found a girl that he’s genuinely fallen for, but can’t make that clear. Ando’s player tendencies have a serious past to them, much like every other character in this series. The pain of teenage love, and the fact that it doesn’t work out most of the time, is why we read Strobe Edge, a series that so far has no real bad guys. Even Mayuka seems beset by doubts when she shows up towards the end. But of course, if things remain as they are, we won’t have a plot, so that’s no surprise. Strobe Edge is slow paced, and may frustrate some people, but its bittersweet feelings seem just about right for me. – Sean Gaffney
This week, Sean, Anna, Melinda, and Michelle look at recent releases from Dark Horse Comics, VIZ Media, Kodansha Comics, and Vertical, Inc.
Blood-C, Vol. 1 | By Ranmaru Kotone, based on a concept by Production I.G. and CLAMP | Dark Horse Comics – I haven’t read any of the Blood the Last Vampire/Blood+ series that this one is supposedly part of, but I think I get the gist. A cute clumsy girl is revealed to be the last stand humanity has against demonfolk who are attacking innocents, which she then kills with her big sword. Most of this first volume focuses on her cute and sweet classmates (who will no doubt die horribly), except for one sullen guy who avoids her (who screams ‘love interest’) The battles are OK, and the character designs are sort of CLAMP-ish, but I won’t be trying any more of this for one big reason: I was bored to tears reading it. Every single page of this reeks of media tie-in, and not the good kind. Readers who like CLAMP are advised to get the Tokyo Babylon omnibus instead. – Sean Gaffney
Dawn of the Arcana, Vol 9 | By Rei Toma | VIZ Media – Nakaba’s powers of magical vision have revealed the depth of Loki’s feelings to her, and to her credit her reaction is to be very concerned about all that her faithful servant must have suffered, both due to his actions in shielding her from harm and Nakaba’s ignorance of his emotions. There isn’t much time to dwell on romance, as the political situation in Lithuanel grows even more tense, and Nakaba sees how scheming royalty use the life of an Ajin to bolster the succession. Nakaba and Caesar’s relationship is stronger than ever and I hope Loki is able eventually to find some sort of happiness. Dawn of the Arcana continues to be an entertaining fantasy manga, made more interesting by Nakaba’s use of her powers. – Anna N
A Devil and Her Love Song, Vol. 7 | by Miyoshi Tomori | VIZ Media – A Devil and Her Love Song is unique in the way that emotions that tend to be buried in more typical shojo series are drawn out and discussed in detail. Here Maria is dealing with the fallout of her friendship with Anna, relying more on Yusuke (at his insistence) but still being drawn towards Shin despite his attempts to distance himself from her. The manipulations of a voice coach who seems to take a marked interest in Maria makes it seem like he will play a larger role in upcoming volumes. This series continues to be a go-to read when I want a manga packed full of drama, with a few sweet moments along the way. – Anna N
Fairy Tail, Vol. 24 | By Hiro Mashima | Kodansha Comics – We’ve finally come to the end of the Edolas arc, with Natsu resolving things with his usual straight-ahead heroics… or in this case, villain posing. The next arc will show the characters competing in a battle to be the next S-class wizard, which promises to shed some light at last on Cana, who’s mostly just been “the pretty alcoholic” till now. But most folks remember this volume for the BIG SPOILER. I have no issues with the spoiler itself – god knows I’ll do anything for my happy endings. That said, the premise behind it coming about does require a large amount of disbelief suspension in a series that already has issues with that sort of thing. As for how it affects future volumes, who knows? After all, the extras already hint that Mashima has rewritten his future outline to be quite different from his original plan. – Sean Gaffney
Limit, Vol. 3 | By Keiko Suenobu | Vertical, Inc. – Out of the three currently-available volumes of Keiko Suenobu’s Limit, the third is perhaps the cruelest (and certainly the best). Things begin on an unexpected upswing, as most of the group begins to recover their humanity in the wake of unstable Morishige’s fall from power, which is solidified further by the appearance of another surprise survivor. But as Morishige’s mental condition deteriorates, things eventually become more frightening than ever which, by Limit‘s standards, means quite a bit. I left this volume experiencing a hopeless, sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach that felt far more real than it should have. And isn’t that a shining example of the power of good fiction? This series continues to become more compelling and addictive with each new volume. Wholeheartedly recommended. – Melinda Beasi
Strobe Edge, Vol. 3 | By Io Sakisaka | Published by VIZ Media – I am officially beginning to love Strobe Edge, by which I mean I’ve developed an affection that goes beyond simply being happy to see that a new volume has come out. Slowly, and whilst tip-toeing around some stock shoujo scenarios, Strobe Edge has grown more compelling with each volume. The love… shape between Ninako, Ren, Mayuka, and Ando grows more complicated and painful, and is so well done that any accusations of this being “generic” shoujo should be firmly squashed by this volume. Not only do I love that Ren’s friends are becoming concerned that maybe he does like Ninako, but I love that Mayuka is intimidated, too, and now we have two thoroughly likeable girls both in love with the same boy and feeling awkward about the presence of the other in his life. This is so much better than malicious rivals or wacky hijinks! Highly recommended. – Michelle Smith
This week, Sean, Melinda, Michelle, and Anna look at recent releases from Seven Seas, VIZ Media, Yen Press, and Vertical, Inc.
Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz, Vol. 4 | By QuinRose and Mamenosuke Fujimaru | Seven Seas – One thing I recall about Bloody Twins is that Alice and the Twins got physical almost immediately, and it felt rushed. With Boris, we’ve waited 4 volumes for him to finally get together with Alice, and the waiting has made it much sweeter. There’s likely trouble on the horizon, though. The spectre of Alice’s sister which haunts every single one of these books is still around, and it’s noted that Alice is the sort who’s likely to destroy herself with guilt – is her love with Boris helping, just a distraction, or actively making things worse? Things are not helped by an ongoing mob war between the Hatter and another family, and Peter White’s attempts at doing his best for Alice while still being jealous and clinging. This series is really hitting its stride.– Sean Gaffney
Demon Love Spell, Vol. 2 | By Mayu Shinjo | VIZ Media – OK, Mayu Shinjo, you win. I’ll just put Ai Ore! down to being a clunker in and of itself and settle in with Demon Love Spell, which is far more to my taste. I like that she’s thinking carefully about what it would really be like for an incubus to be living with Miko… and how doing so is actually changing Kagura, making him more receptive to her less lustful feelings. And it certainly helps that life seems to be conspiring against him getting anywhere with her except in dreams. There’s also some touching storytelling here, with the fox subplot resolved in a very bittersweet yet satisfying way (her author’s notes on this are hilarious, by the way.) The balance between seduction and consent, always difficult to keep in many other shoujo manga (hi, Hot Gimmick!) is just right here, and it makes for a sexy, fun read.– Sean Gaffney
Demon Love Spell, Vol. 2 | By Mayu Shinjo | VIZ Media – I’m not as charmed as Melinda by the second volume of Demon Love Spell, but I will grant that it’s probably the best volume of any Mayu Shinjo manga that I have read. It begins with the story of a seriously adorable fox (who is significantly less adorable in his human form) who confuses Miko with the girl he loves. The conclusion to this is genuinely touching, and along the way Kagura realizes that Miko’s feelings of love for him are superior sustenance to mere physical intimacy. Not that he’s given up on getting into her pants, of course, though she’s able to deflect and distract him easily enough in subsequent chapters that it doesn’t feel like there’s a serious power imbalance in their relationship. This will probably never be my favorite series, but it doesn’t piss me off, which is more than I can say for Ai Ore!. – Michelle Smith
Oresama Teacher, Vol. 13 | By Izumi Tsubaki | VIZ Media – For all that they’re enemies, Saeki and Miyabi’s groups both have a basic goal, whether it’s intended or not. Saeki takes the delinquent loner types and brings them closer together, and Miyabi takes the eccentric weirdos and gives them a purpose. This means that it’s quite hard to root against the Student Council, something lampshaded in the series itself. (“Wait, are we the enemy?”) This volume we meet Kanon, who has a chip on her shoulder against men but who warms up to Natsuo fairly quickly. That none of this is the least bit surprising isn’t an issue – no one reads Oresama Teacher for the plot. But if it’s lots of laughs and occasional heartwarming scenes, this is for you. Not to mention the final cliffhanger, which features a fantastic dynamic entry by… well, that would spoil it.– Sean Gaffney
Paradise Kiss, Vol. 3 | By Ai Yazaka | Vertical, Inc. – Volume three wraps up Vertical’s edition of Paradise Kiss, and oh what a wrap-up it is! I’d forgotten just how wonderfully complex this story becomes before its close and how brilliant Yazawa’s artwork is throughout. Her panel designs and page layouts are extraordinarily expressive—she’s able to put more raw emotion in just a pair of eyes than many artists can manage over the course of an entire work. Though this story revolves around high school students, its realistic focus on adult concerns like recognizing personal limitations and making hard career choices (and its refusal to romanticize its primary romantic pairing) reminds us why Paradise Kiss is a josei manga. Vertical’s new edition makes the most of all of this by both declining to gloss over the characters’ less mainstream idiosyncrasies and showing off Yazawa’s artwork to its best advantage. It’s a must-buy for any fan. – Melinda Beasi
Slam Dunk, Vol. 27 | By Takehiko Inoue | VIZ Media – The game against Sannoh enters the second half and our heroes start to fall apart. In particular the normally solid center and captain Akagi has trouble managing the opposition. Sannoh goes on an unanswered scoring streak, making the gap almost impossible to close. The only people who still seem to have faith are Coach Anzai and Sakuragi, who is either going to become an offensive rebound machine or do something incredibly stupid. Perhaps both! This is another stellar volume of Slam Dunk. I would be happy if this basketball game lasted forever, but instead I will wait impatiently for the next volume to see if Sakuragi gets to play out his basketball hero fantasies. – Anna N
Strobe Edge, Vol. 3 | By Io Sakisaka | VIZ Media – Given that I originally began this series thinking, “I’m so bored,” it’s important to note that it has become one that I now rush to consume the moment it arrives at my doorstep. Everyone’s relationships take on new complications in this volume as Ninako and Ren stumble over a few mutual misunderstandings, Ando finally confesses his growing feelings for Ninako, and Ren and Mayuka (unsuccessfully) try to pretend that nothing at all is going wrong. What’s especially refreshing about the way this series is handling its romantic complications is that everyone is genuinely likable (even playboy Ando is turning into a stand-up guy), everyone’s feelings are equally relatable, and there’s no sign of a typical, overblown shoujo villain in sight. While this certainly complicates things for readers, it’s immensely satisfying. I’m on the edge of my seat and ready for heartbreak, one way or another. Definitely recommended. – Melinda Beasi
Umineko: When They Cry Episode 1: Legend of the Golden Witch, Vol. 2 | By Ryukishi07 and Kei Natsumi | Yen Press – The only thing longer than the title of this volume is the book itself, which is truly enormous. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it is tedious. Battler utters his “flip over the chessboard” catchphrase approximately 31 times as he goes back and forth on whether the ritualistic murders happening on an isolated family island are the work of a human or supernatural culprit. The moment when he realizes his theories are all useless is played as a tremendous shock, but it was obvious to readers from the start. Ultimately, despite the body count and the relentlessly creepy/irritating little girl serving as the witch’s mouthpiece, Umineko is boring. It’s impossible to care about these characters or feel anything when they’re killed off, and even though there is more to this story after this volume, I think I am well and truly done now. – Michelle Smith
Vampire Knight, Vol. 16 | By Matsuri Hino | VIZ Media – Maybe I’m remembering it a little easier, or it just wasn’t as convoluted, but I found it easier to get back into the swing of Vampire Knight this time around. Things seem to be drawing closer to a crisis point – Kaname and the Headmaster’s battle is fraught with tension, and Sara continues to make a very Carmilla-esque villain. But really, this series is at its best when it’s examining the relationships between Yuki, Zero and Kaname, and we get a lot of that here. They’re both pushing Yuki away as far as they can, and to her credit she’s not really having it from either of them (though with Zero she acquiesces a bit more). This leads up to the cliffhanger, showing the three of them together once more. It’s still high shoujo soap opera, and I’m not sure who’s going to survive to a happy ending, but I’ll be sticking around.– Sean Gaffney
This week, Sean, Melinda, Anna, and Michelle look at recent releases from VIZ Media, Yen Press, and Kodansha Comics.
Ai Ore!, Vol. 8 | By Mayu Shinjo | VIZ Media – Ai Ore! is now on hold in Japan while Shinjo works at other projects, which honestly is fine with me, as I’m starting to get really bored with these leads. Rolling back the canon so that they are not sexually active did get rid of some of the more rapey aspects of Akira, which I can only approve of, but it also made him slightly duller. As for Mizuki, I have to regard her as a failure even compared to other weak Shinjo heroines. When the best part of the manga for her is having a mental breakdown at losing her guitar—for 30 pages—you know something’s wrong. That said, there’s nothing actively offensive here like Vol. 1 had. It’s cute and fluffy, and mostly tame. Which is great for generic shoujo manga fans, but a disappointment to those of us who want anything but boring pablum from this artist. It’s sad that I preferred it when it offended me yet kept my interest.– Sean Gaffney
Bakuman, Vol. 18 | By Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata | VIZ Media – With the end of this series quickly approaching, Mashiro and Takagi come very close to achieving their dreams, which is actually more gratifying than I expected. Even Mashiro’s ill-conceived romance now feels like something to root for (though the manga fan in me still balks at the idea of an anime adaptation as his ultimate goal). Now that the series’ leads have become truly likable, it’s much easier to revel in their successes, and this volume offers up a lot to celebrate. Even Hiramaru’s strange romance gets a satisfying boost in this volume, and I came out pretty much adoring Aoki, which was a real surprise for me. An inside look at assistant politics adds excitement as well. Though I’ve long established myself as an addicted fan of this series, it’s nice to see it push through towards the end with such strength and verve. Still recommended.– Melinda Beasi
BTOOOM!, Vol. 1 | By Junya Inoue | Yen Press – Battle Royale has a lot to answer for, even though I don’t think it anticipated creating its own genre. But “Survival horror” is very big now, and Yen’s High School of the Dead sells well enough that they’ve bought two more series in a similar vein. BTOOOM! is the first, where a NEET who is master of the gaming world but a failure at getting a real job finds himself on a deserted island with only a bunch of bombs and people trying to kill him. He’s also lost his memory, which is helpful as it allows others to explain the plot to him in detail. There’s a hot girl I’ve no doubt we’ll learn more about soon, and a few villains running around. But for the most part, this gives you lots of action, lots of explosions, and the occasional examination of morals surrounded by “who will die next” tension. It’s not breaking any new ground, but it’s perfectly decent at doing what it wants to do.– Sean Gaffney
BTOOOM!, Vol. 1 | By Junya Inoue | Yen Press – While BTOOOM! might not be able to claim the most original premise ever, it is nonetheless fairly entertaining. Unemployed Ryouta Sakamoto, a 22-year-old living with his long-suffering mother, is the best of the best at the online game BTOOOM!, even though his real life is in pretty bad shape. When he wakes, disoriented, on a remote island, he gradually realizes that he’s been drafted into a real-life version of the game, with deadly stakes. Even though a lot of what happens is completely predictable to the reader, and some of Ryouta’s anguished faces as he deliberates moral questions are actually kind of comedic, it’s still a quick and reasonably fun read. I could’ve done without the buxom competitor and the obligatory focus on her crotch, of course, but you can’t win ’em all. – Michelle Smith
Cage of Eden, Vol. 9 | By Yoshinobu Yamada | Kodansha Comics – Speaking of survival horror, it’s time for a new volume of Cage of Eden, which deals with a lot of the same moral lessons. In particular, Zaji and Mariya coming to blows (well, OK, Mariya getting beaten up) over whether they should abandon Kanako, who has been kidnapped by a King Kong-alike. Mariya points out that they’re facing a lethal and intelligent beast, and have to put the safety of the whole party over just one person. Zaji says screw that. This is shounen manga, so Zaji is, of course, correct. Meanwhile, there is a brief reminder that these are a bunch of puberty-stricken teenagers on a deserted island, with both guys and girls taking a poll for best boyfriend/girlfriend. No surprises to see who wins each side. The fanservice continues to be utterly blatant, but the series still clips along and provides what readers want.– Sean Gaffney
Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden, Vol. 11 | By Yuu Watase | VIZ Media – Oh, the angst! The pain! The total awesomeness! With only one volume left of this fantasy-adventure to go, I can’t help being torn between joy and grief. This is unsurprisingly an action-packed installment, filled with difficult battles, epic emotional drama, and some genuine tragedy. And if some of the series’ primary conflicts are a bit too easily resolved, it’s pretty difficult to calm down one’s adrenaline long enough to notice. Overall, this series offers up a terrific example of the enduring appeal of shoujo adventure stories, and it’s gratifying to see it holding its own alongside the ever-growing stack of high school romances. Now, with the Qu-Dong army approaching and Takiko’s life hanging in the balance, the agonizing wait for volume twelve begins! Highly recommended. – Melinda Beasi
Jiu Jiu, Vol. 4 | By Touya Tobina | VIZ Media – I could feel my interest in this title start to wane a bit in the third volume, and I’m sad to say that state of affairs is continuing with the fourth. The plot wrinkle for this volume is a sudden Jiu Jiu exchange where Takamichi’s familiars Snow and Night are sent away and replaced with alternates. Takamichi’s reaction to being away from her beloved companions is a sudden increase in her crafting habits, producing far too many dog plushies. Tobina’s art is as stylish as ever and there are some quirky humorous parts of the story, but I’m still not emotionally invested in what might happen to these characters. I’m sure this series has plenty of appeal to some readers because it is generally well-executed and quirky enough to be interesting, but unfortunately I am not one of them. – Anna N
Oresama Teacher, Vol. 13 | By Izumi Tsubaki | VIZ Media – The cover of this title is a lie! It shows Super Bun on the cover, but Mafuyu spends most of her time in this volume as her male alter ego Natsuo. The fact that the juvenile delinquent heroine of this series has secret identities both as a spastic bunny superhero and as a man is why my interest in this comedy manga shows no signs of slowing down even at the thirteenth volume. Mafuyu and her team take on a man-hating member of the student council and there’s a bonus appearance by my favorite character Bancho, which always makes me happy. – Anna N
Pandora Hearts, Vol. 14 | By Jun Mochizuki | Yen Press – Well, wow. I suspected that this volume would be dramatic, but despite my open adoration of this series, I didn’t actually expect it to be so well-executed. Volume fourteen opens with a fairly large plot twist, and then proceeds (with uncharacteristic coherence) to escalate from there. But the greatest joys in this volume are to be found in its relationships, particularly as concerns Vincent, Ada, Gilbert, and Break. That there is enough room for such careful emotional nuance amidst all this series’ action and (girl-aimed) fan service continues to be surprising, but gratifying indeed. That this series is still ongoing means that we’re still in for a long haul, but Mochizuki just continues to get better, and she’s quickly making up for her plotting issues early on. Still recommended with unabashed fangirl glee. – Melinda Beasi